10/08/08 2:45 PM ET
Francona tabs Dice-K for ALCS opener
Beckett, Lester and Wakefield will follow 18-game winner
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Daisuke Matsuzaka, who went 18-3 for the Red Sox this season, will take the ball in Game 1 on Friday night at Tropicana Field, marking the first time he's opened a postseason series in his two years with the team. For Matsuzaka, the start will come on six days of rest following his no-decision against the Angels in Game 2 of the AL Division Series on Friday.
Josh Beckett, who has one of the most impressive October resumes of any active starting pitcher, draws the Game 2 assignment on Saturday. Beckett, who had been shut down by a right oblique injury, was rusty in Game 3 of the ALDS, pitching five laborious innings on 12 days of rest. This time, he will pitch with five days of rest.
Jon Lester, Boston's hottest pitcher, will take the ball in Game 3 at Fenway Park, where he was a dazzling 11-1 with a 2.41 ERA in 17 starts. The lefty posted a 0.00 ERA in 14 innings in the ALDS and could have pitched Game 2 on four days of rest. But Francona felt it was better for both Beckett and Lester -- who will have six days' rest -- to go this route.
Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will make his entrance into this year's postseason when he pitches Game 4 on Monday.
|Daisuke Matsuzaka's 2008 home-road splits|
"It gives people rest," Francona said. "Not too much rest, not too little. It's probably the best way where we don't have one guy going on eight [days' rest], one guy going on regular [rest]. [It will] keep everybody somewhat in line. Rest at this time of year is huge, and we'll take advantage of it while trying not to give too much. And the guys that pitch [Game] 1, 2 and 3 are lined up for [Game] 5 6, and 7. Nobody's going to throw three times, so having those three twice is really what's important, regardless of how it's lined up."
Against Boston's right-handers in Game 1 and 2, Rays manager Joe Maddon will likely have left-handed bats Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd in the mix. Right-handed-hitting Rocco Baldelli, the Rhode Island native, could get a crack against Lester in Game 3.
The Rays will counter with a rotation of James Shields, lefty Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine.
Dice-K vs. Rays in 2008
Look for Sox center fielder Coco Crisp to get the call in Game 3 against Kazmir, with one of two left-handed bats (J.D. Drew or Jacoby Ellsbury) going to the bench.
The rotation has been a strength for the Red Sox all year long, and they hope that will continue to be the case in this series.
"As far as any one of our starters that gets the ball, I have confidence in all of them," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "They've been part of this team winning all year."
One big question entering the series is how healthy and effective Beckett can be. The Sox's ace had right elbow problems during August, but seemingly got over them before the oblique injury cropped up.
However, the Red Sox maintain that Beckett is fine, and that his problems in Game 3 against the Angels (nine hits, four runs) were mostly due to rust.
"The strength in Josh's pitches was there," said Varitek. "He hadn't been on the mound in a while. It just led to a little bit of a sharpness issue more than anything. If his breaking ball didn't have any tightness to it, if his fastball didn't have any life to it, then I'd worry. But I didn't see that."
If the series goes the distance, the Red Sox like their setup, having Beckett available for Game 6 and Lester ready to go in Game 7.
What went into Francona's decision to tab Wakefield (10-11, 4.13 ERA) as the Game 4 starter over Paul Byrd (11-12, 4.60)?
"We considered everything but when it comes down to what serves the ballclub best, Byrd can probably be used with more flexibility out of the bullpen," said Francona. "Then when you line up Wake, you put him with [catcher Kevin] Cash, you see how far you can go and then you can make your determinations with how to go with the bullpen as opposed to trying to bring in Wake in the middle of the game knowing that he's possibly throwing to a catcher that you haven't had. It's an easy decision when you look at all the dynamics of it."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.